All eyes were on Will Ferrell recently when the comedy MVP joined 10 Major League Baseball teams during their spring training, hobnobbing with players, holding hilarious signs and playing every single position on the field. While the stunt, a partnership with the MLB, generated tons of attention and raised nearly $1 million in charity, it also attracted the ire of announcing legend John Madden, who criticized the display for its “lack of respect.”
On the contrary, Ferrell’s stunt is the best publicity baseball has received in years. Ferrell himself is a comedy innovator, having founded the cutting-edge site Funny or Die that has debuted classics like The Landlord and Between Two Ferns. Ferrell’s stunt made baseball the center of attention for a day, and the MLB should take note: replicating its success is in their best interest.
Here are the three reasons why Will Ferrell’s spring training stunt was a grand slam for baseball:
1. It injected Hollywood star power – and some irreverence.
No one doubts that athletes are formidable celebrities. But for teams without the star power of a David Wright or David Ortiz, Ferrell was a great help. Ferrell donned jerseys for the Mariners, Angels, Reds and more, great teams that don’t receive as much mainstream media attention as the Yankees or Red Sox usually do.
Additionally, with Jeter retiring and A-Rod mired in controversy, professional baseball needs extra positive attention. And who better to help than one of the biggest names in comedy? Cracking a few jokes to help stem the ratings drop professional baseball’s experienced in recent years can only benefit the sport.
2. It converted views into action.
Nearly $1 million raised for charity in a single day is a massive feat and an excellent example of a campaign converting attention into action in the form of donations. Last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon to raise money to fight ALS proved that social video can have a tangible impact offline, and Ferrell’s stunt is no exception. Those million dollars also put the stunt’s reach into quantifiable terms. Without the charity component, it might have been more difficult to measure the stunt’s success.
3. It engaged Millennials.
The MLB has been making strides in recent years to appeal to Millennials, from digitizing stadiums to producing a show for MTV. A major part of Millennial outreach is having a presence on social media, and online channels were positively flooded with videos and gifs of Ferrell’s antics, as well as the hashtag #FerrellTakesTheField. Having video content like Ferrell’s online is key, because it draws in casual viewers who then share to others. This widens the scope of a campaign past just baseball fans, which can be valuable in targeting audiences for future campaigns.
Bottom Line: Ferrell’s stunt was a boon to baseball by bringing fun, irreverence and star power to the sport, while setting social media abuzz and raising a great deal of money in the process.